2012 Hyundai Elantra Review

The symptoms of Wallet Sciatica include: back pain and an ache that extends down the leg. The cause is uneven pressure placed on a sitter’s posterior by an item in the back pocket, like a wallet, though it may be entirely psychosomatic.

The price of the 2012 Hyundai Elantra is guaranteed to not chafe your arse, but the way it leaves your wallet fat is  going to upset your sciatic nerve. It’s a good kind of pain, every twinge a reminder of the value Hyundai puts into its automobiles. There are other ways to flatten out your billfold, anyway. Saving on an automobile leaves spending money free for cigarillos, single malt and slot machines.

There is, however, an acute pain caused by the 2012 Elantra. It sets in slowly, and it doesn’t afflict everyone, but to a car enthusiast, it might as well be a giant purple bruise on the face. This is the pain of surrender. Picking the Elantra as your daily driver says that you’ve given up trying to find a car that’s entertaining, choosing the soul-crushing appliance, instead.

It’s not that the Elantra does anything wrong, but it’s just the type of car you’d expect to find on the shelf at the big-box store next to Mr. Coffees and cut-rate electronics. While a ten-dollar automatic drip coffeemaker might satisfy the masses, some real-deal aficionados opt for the labor of a French Press, and so it is with cars.

2011 Ford Edge SEL AWD Review

We dunnit again. Motofinity bought another car just to review it.

Sort of.

Actually, my wife and I replaced a higher-mileage Jeep Commander that suckled fuel pumps more forcefully than a starving newborn. It’s what you’d expect from a Hemi, but it was killing us.

We benefitted from incentives and the brain-bashing price war dealers and auto brands are locked in, and decided on a Mediterranean Blue 2011 Ford Edge SEL AWD. We were excited to finally have a safe, reliable SUV crossover to transport our young family around town, but the sweetness and light soon turned rocky…

2012 Mustang GT Review

I’m driving a mythical creature, a 2012 Mustang GT.With a solid rear axle spun by a 3.73:1 ring gear putting down the torque of a 5.0-liter V8, there’s nothing economical about this car. No fuel is burned while braking, at least, but the Brembo hardware makes short work of stops. Gasoline will soon flirt with $5 per gallon, and 18 mpg feels like hypermiling in this thing, especially with the amount of city driving I’ve been doing. The 412-hp snarl that accompanies every launch makes any concern about MPG evaporate, at least until the rent’s due and all your cash is sitting in the gas tank. But this is a Mustang GT review, not a Prius.

This ain’t no press car, either. What else should an enthusiast who is single with no kids do when looking for a car, right? This being my first live rear axle vehicle, I now understand why that can be a pejorative term. It shimmies and shakes even over slow bumps. Take off on a cold or slick surface and you’ll discover axle hop. If it weren’t for the 5 nice days Ohio has had in the spring, I’d have thought that the Mustang was severely flawed, but no, it’s just the weather that sucks. At least I’m not going to regret NOT doing this.

2012 Mustang GT ReviewWhen the weather clears, the Mustang is the polar opposite. Traction off the line is surprising, the clutch has an easily-found sweet spot, and you can break every speed limit in the United States in a little over ten seconds. It’s an idea that sounds as good to a driving enthusiast as a quick snort of heroin sounds to a junkie. The itch starts at every red light. Sure, blip the throttle and the car fluctuates back and forth. The light turns green and you try to behave but with short gears the V8 quickly ascends to its almost 7,000 rpm redline and from there the only fathomable option is to grab another gear. You quickly become engrossed in managing the cogs and before you know it you’re hitting 4th and approaching the ton mark. Panic ensues and you quickly do a mirror check for that other Five-Oh.

That ox-cart axle is great for launching this 3,600 pound car, and handling is tidy, regardless of the chassis layout. Seriously. You guys talking about how it’s heavy and bounces in turns, eat it. The Mustang GT is well-behaved and quick as snot propelled by a sneeze. You simply cannot find a car that does all that the Mustang can do for anything near its price. I got a lesson in this when I hit a corner too hot. Bracing for a bunch of sliding and protesting from the Pirellis, there was no drama as the car simply negotiated the turn. Those Brembo brakes burned off the speed with the same kind of competence, leaving me to sit at the side of the road, idling, hands shaking, stupid grin on my face. It’s not so much the power that scares the novice. It’s easy to let off the gas the car calms down. No, have a panicked slam of the Brembo’s and you’ll be pulling your face off the windshield.

This gap looks very unfinished on an otherwise pretty nice dash. What the hell, Ford?

This gap looks very unfinished on an otherwise pretty nice dash. What the hell, Ford?

The modern Mustang is nothing like the old standards we were used to. Still, one eyesore on an otherwise impressive dash can be seen near the steering column, where the faux aluminum finish ends but the plastic continues going. It’s nothing major, but it just makes you scratch your head and go “What the hell, Ford?

The rest of the interior is above Ford average, with quality plastics and thick leather. The seats have some bolstering that can keep the average person from sliding too much, but they aren’t Recaros – an option we wish was available on the standard GT. Still, we won’t complain because we’ve been in the Corvette and we’re pretty sure our Grandfathers Cadillac had more bolstering than those seats.
The car has been plagued by issues with the MT82 Getrag transmission, in the cold some Mustangs refuse to use half of their gears. The rumor is that Ford used the Getrag because of its smoothness, despite the fact that its only rated for 375 lb. ft when the Coyote throws down 390 lb. ft. To Fords point, its a slick shifting transmission compared to the TR-6060 used in the Shelby. However, I think what most Mustang owners want is a transmission that can hold the power rather than be smooth. In reality, its not that smooth of a transmission in the first place. We hope Ford fixes this issue. Otherwise they’ll be faced with a lot of lemon law’d cars, lawsuits and disgruntled owners. The only other option for owners is to throw the warranty into left field and drop an aftermarket Tremec and kissing their cost savings over the Boss or Shelby goodbye.Ford' Getrag Transmission in the new Mustang has been causing problems among the Mustang fans.

Still, this brings up a interesting point. A stock GT, is 30 horsepower and a suspension setup away from being a Boss 302. There are significant differences between the GT 5.0 and the Boss 5.0 to be sure. However, consider this build – a GT build like ours, Brembo brake package, 3.73 gears stickers for around $36 (knock off leather and save a few grand), throw in a TR-6060 ($3,000 + install), the Boss/FRPP suspension package ($1,800 + Install), Ford Racing 525 HP Super Charger, and lets say a new axle-back setup for around $600. That puts you on par for horsepower with the $50K Shelby GT500 at $45K + installation. You might say thats too much work, but what you’re getting is the same amount of horsepower as the Shelby, thats a few hundred pounds lighter than it, and mostly crucially a few hundred pounds off the nose. It’s packing more power than the Boss with a pretty close suspension set up. We already know the stock GT’s ability to keep up with an M3 is pretty good, now add 150 HP and better handling. So instead of keeping up the Teutonic bruiser, you’re watching it shrink away in the rear view and still pocketing money.
A Shelby GT500, An Super Charged SN-95 and our S-197 5.0 Mustang

Overall, color us impressed with the new Mustang GT. Obviously, we bought one. It’s a very well sorted car despite its handicaps and takes our pick as the top muscle car from the big three. It’s lighter, faster, and all around a much more enjoyable car to be in than the slower and sometimes more expensive competition from Chevy and Dodge. Oh, and an easter egg for you other 2012 owners, depress the brake and then the T/C button twice before letting off the brake and you’ll be in “Sport” mode, which dials back the traction control, stability control and firms up the steering. Be careful with this trick!

Hyundai reveals new fuel cell sedan concept at Seoul Motor Show

At the Seoul Motor Show Hyundai has reiterated its commitment to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles with a new mid-size sedan concept dubbed Blue2. While Honda, Toyota, General Motors and Daimler (and in the past Ford although they have backed away from the technology recently) have garnered most of the attention in the world of automotive fuel cells, Hyundai has been quietly working away on the technology for several years.

Hyundai has developed its own in-house fuel cell stack rather than relying on partnerships with other automakers or suppliers. The Korean carmaker has shown a number of concepts over the years and built several dozen prototypes that have run in various test fleets. Just last month in Washington DC the company unveiled a fuel cell version of the current generation Tucson crossover.

Not much technical detail has been revealed about the Blue2 other than a 90 kilowatt output from the fuel cell and efficiency of about 82 miles per gallon. The hydrogen capacity and range are unknown at this time. The exterior design is a departure from the fluidic sculpture language of current production Hyundais and looks like an evolution of the theme from the Curb concept first shown at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. The overall proportions and the greenhouse in particular do bear some resemblance to the current Saab 9-5 although the front overhang is shorter and stubbier. Inside a large Transparent Organic Light Emitting Diode (TOLED) screen dominates the instrument panel.

Hyundai has publicly committed to low volume production of fuel cell vehicles with numbers in the thousands beginning in 2012, ramping up to higher volumes by 2015. Given Hyundai’s recent history and successes, we certainly wouldn’t count them out.



Porsche bumps the Panamera to 550 hp with the Turbo S!

The four-door Panamera gran turismo may be a new type of vehicle for Porsche, but the Stuttgart automaker is following the same basic pattern that has prevailed for all of its previous entries. That is launch the basic model and then augment it with a steady flow additional variants with more power power, better handling, less mass etc.

Following the debut of the Panamera hybrid at the recent Geneva Motor Show, a more powerful flavor will be arriving at the New York Auto Show in a couple of weeks. The Panamera Turbo will gain the always desirable S suffix to indicate the extra 50 horsepower and 37 pound-feet of twisting force generated by the 4.8-liter V8 engine. That translates to peak values of 550 hp and 553 lb-ft.

But wait, that’s not all! The Turbo S comes with the Sport Chrono Package which includes driver selectable Sport and Sport Plus modes. When either of those modes are enabled and the driver stabs the go pedal and triggers a transmission kickdown, a time limited turbo overboost mode will bump the output to 590 pound-feet!

Using launch control, the over two-ton Panamera Turbo S sprints to 62 mph in just 3.8 seconds and hits the wall at 191 mph.

This extra juice comes courtesy of  a pair of turbochargers with new lighter titanium-aluminum alloy turbine wheels that spin up faster and revised calibrations in the engine management system. All of the other techno-goodness that’s included in the regular Panamera Turbo carries on including the torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system, stability control and active roll control.

The S is visually distinguished from lesser Panameras with sill extensions from the Porsche Exclusive range and 20-inch Turbo II wheels with a wider rear track. The Panamera Turbo S goes on sale in Jule with  starting tab of just $173,200. Your friendly neighborhood Porsche retailer will happily help you inflate the bottom line with the vast list of customizations that are available for any Porsche.


2011 Dodge Durango Review: The Driving Enthusiast’s Crossover

In front of the 2011 Dodge Durango Crew snow was swirling through the tunnels of light punched into the night by the headlamps. This has been a vengeful winter, and it seemed that some of that wrath was now being directed squarely at the Durango itself, and me by association. After all, even though the Durango is all-new, it’s still a big, heavy SUV with a tremendous thirst. Eight thumping cylinders and three rows of seats aren’t going to win you Green Car of the Year.

black Dodge Durango in front of brick wall

2011 Dodge Durango - Motofinity.com

Just because the Durango is large and in charge doesn’t mean it’s some kind of outmoded throwback, though. This new Durango replaces a lumbering dinosaur of a vehicle that was ugly and ultimately not nearly as successful as the original Durango that bowed in 1998. From the beginning, the Durango has carpetbagged its architecture from another model, and this time around, it stops borrowing the Dakota’s boxer shorts and pulls on the 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee’s uh, briefer, underbits. The exterior is expertly styled with all of the modern Dodge cues in place, and it looks great. Inside there are three rows of seats, and the third row can even support human life, though tall folks will want to ride in the front or middle row.

That shift should be interpreted as a commitment by Dodge to avoid going bankrupt. They could have hung new front sheetmetal on the old Durango and tweaked the taillights to give a passing impression of newness. That’s essentially the story of the Chrysler 200, after all. Instead, Dodge saw the same writing on the wall as the Ford Explorer, which is why both former leviathans have sworn off full frames for a membership in the Crossover Club. Car companies are not idiot collectives (though GM can sometimes come close), and since crossovers are generating so much heat, it’s a smart place to be if you want to sell vehicles.

Even though trucks are passe, the 2011 Durango is big and heavy and inefficient, all of which should naturally leave you wondering why Dodge traded one flavor of glorified station wagon for another, sacrificing towing capacity in the process. Don’t think too hard about that, or the abysmal 15 mpg I eked out of the 2011 Durango, because I’m going to tell you why it’s fantastic.

grille and headlamp of the 2011 Dodge Durango

2011 Dodge Durango - Motofinity.com

The fact that both the 2011 Dodge Durango and I were able to share a chortle at the snow storm speaks to the fact that it drives stupendously well. Yes, it weighs a jillion pounds; so much that the normally-brawny 5.7 liter Hemi’s 360 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque feel peaky and overwhelmed. The new Durango actually weighs a smidge under 5,000 pounds, only slightly down from the old truck. The 2011 Durango’s more powerful engine is a liter up on the 4.7 from the second-generation, and the Multi-Displacement System gives four of the holes a break whenever possible, boosting mileage to 13 mpg city, 20 mpg highway. 2008 Durango buyers suffered with the same 13 mpg in the city, but only reached 17 mpg on the highway. The long and short of all these numbers is that nobody picks the Durango for its thrift.

rear view of 2011 dodge durango against a brick wall

2011 Dodge Durango - Motofinity.com

So it’s still just as hefty and not really any more economical than the old Durango, but it’s also blessed with perfect weight distribution, and a serene cabin that’s got just the right amount of guttural V8 anger for punctuation. The Hemi sounds so damn good that it could make three horsepower, and that would be fine. Oh, there’s also a 3.6 liter V6, the new Pentastar engine with 290 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque for better economy, though you’ll be putting your foot deeper into the throttle more often with that powerplant. Both engines are world-class mills, and if you can do without the extra thrust, go for it.

Either way, this porker actually has some sports car baked in, which is a hell of a surprise for a three-bencher that’s comfortable all the way back to the kid pen, which actually turns out to hold adults in relative comfort. The interior materials are nice where they should be, and the UConnect system that includes navigation, communication and entertainment functions is easy enough to use that I didn’t once threaten it with brass knuckles. The ergonomics are also great, with easy-to-use controls and features for rear seat passengers like an available DVD system and climate controls that make them feel like the designers thought about them.

The well-priced 2011 Durango starts just under $30,000 and comes with lots of standard equipment. There’s no shortage of available technology upgrades, but never is the Durango an annoyance to operate like a fully-loaded Ford Edge or Explorer with the confusion-fest of MyFordTouch. In fact, the Durango has it all over the new  Explorer, with a better-balanced chassis, better looks and more gratifying experience from behind the wheel. While Explorer buyers are in their MyFordTouch class, learning how to use what they just bought, you’ll be out in your Durango. It’s the driving enthusiast’s crossover.

grille and emblem of 2011 Dodge Durango

2011 Dodge Durango - Motofinity.com

Video: I want to be Jim Glickenhaus when I grow up!

James Glickenhaus is the kind of car collector I would be if someone dropped a huge pallet of freshly printed hundred dollar bills in my backyard.  With the fortune he’s amassed, Glickenhaus has acquired a stunning collection of machinery, much of it extremely rare, and in several cases, one of a kind.  This includes his 1967 Ferrari Dino 206 Competizione by Pininfarina that won best in class at the 2009 Meadowbrook Concours.

Glickenhaus’ most famous car is the luscious Ferrari P4/5 that he commissioned from Pininfarina.  Not content to be one of 400, Glickenhaus sent his Enzo for a custom body inspired by the 330 P4 racer and other 1960s Ferraris. When it hit the grass at the 2006 Pebble Beach Concours, it caused a a sensation.

Our biggest respect for Mr. Glickenhaus comes from the fact that his cars aren’t just museum pieces rotting in a warehouse like another famed collector. Glickenhaus drives the P4/5 and the 206 Competizione on a regular basis on public roads.

Using the one-off $4 million P4/5 as a daily driver wasn’t enough for Glickenhaus.  He wanted to go racing with something that looked much like it. Thus was born the P4/5 Competizione.  Unlike the V12 powered road car, Glickenhaus and his partners at LM Gianetti, N Technology and Pro.To. in Torino decided to build the race car on the platform of the V8 powered F430.

A road going F430 Scuderia provided the chassis while the running gear, including the 450 hp V8 and six-speed sequential Hewland gearbox, came from the multiple race winning F430 GT2. Construction of the car was completed earlier this year and it has since undergone testing at several tracks including Vallelunga in Italy.

The plan is to have the P4/5 Competizione run in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring this June in the hands of ex-F1 drivers Mika Salo and Nicola Larini, test driver Fabrizio Giovanardi and another veteran racer Luca Capellari.  The Nurburgring enduro is an amazing race with a wide variety of GT and Touring Car competitors as well as an experimental class that has seen the likes of the Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid and Lexus LFA prototypes in recent years. Check out the video to hear Glickenhaus talk about his latest project.  Hopefully other collectors will take inspiration from Jim and let some of their special machines run free as they were meant to.


2011 12 Hours of Sebring in the books!

With this weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring marking the opening round of both the American Le Mans Series and the Intercontinental Le Mans Cup, an even larger than usual contingent of European teams turned up for a 56 car starting field. For some years now, the bumpy Sebring track has attracted the European factory squads from Peugeot, Audi and Aston Martin as a high-speed test session for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. This was also the first race run to the new 2011 rules package with downsized engines for the top LMP1 class.

Only three all-new P1 cars on the track to compete at Sebring were the factory Peugeot 908s and the Highcroft HPD ARX-01e. While Audi had been testing its all new 3.7-liter V6 diesel powered at Sebring in the weeks leading up to the race, the Germans opted to race with an updated version of last year’s Le Mans winning R15+ with smaller intake restrictors and fuel tank. The rest of the P1 field consisted of “grandfathered” old 2010 P1 and P2 machines including the biobutanol powered Dyson Racing Lola-Mazda and the ex-factory Aston Martin-Lola being run by the Cytosport Muscle Milk team. The French Oreca Matmut team that ran an ex-factory Peugeot in Europe (including Le Mans) in 2010 is entered in the ILMC with its V12 diesel machine so they were also running in Florida.

The lighter, lower cost P2 machines are now required to use production based engines and only four of them were ready for the season opener including a pair of Honda powered Lolas fielded by last year’s LMP Challenge winners, Level 5 Motorsports. Interestingly, Level 5 ran one car as a closed-top coupe while the other was in open-top configuration.

A full field of 24 GT cars took part including the debuts of the all-new Ferrari 458 Italia and the Panoz Abruzzi. Three of the older Ferrari F430 GTs were also on hand to prove that they were still in contention. Among the Ferrari squads, Houston based Risi Competizione arrived in Florida with absolutely no running time on their new 458 after the car was held up in customs for an extra week and then the crew had scramble just to prepare it for the race. The factory Corvette C6.Rs were making their first run with the new paddle-shift gearbox. The JaguarRSR XKR and Robertson Racing Ford GT squads both expanded to two car efforts.

Through most of the practice and qualifying sessions from Wednesday to Friday the P1 cars were all running fairly close together with no one really dominating. That all changed when Stephan Sarrazin went out for a hot lap in the #8 Peugeot and put in a blistering lap 1.109 seconds faster than the #1 Audi which took the #2 spot. The Peugeots and Audis alternated for the first five slots on the grid. Among the P2 cars, the new Signatech Oreca-Nissan ran nearly 3.5 seconds a lap quicker than the first of the Level 5 Lola-HPD which happened to be the open-top version.

Among the GT machines, things were a lot tighter with less than eight-tenths of a second covering the first six cars. Gimmi Bruni in the AF Corsa F430 went out and demonstrated that the older Ferrari still had some life left in it by grabbing the GT pole ahead of the 04 Corvette, the two BMWs, the Risi Ferrari and the #045 Flying Lizard Porsche.

Once the green flag fell on Saturday morning, Frank Montagny kept the lead and Alex Wurz slipped past Mike Rockenfeller’s Audi where they stayed for the next several laps with the Audis following close behind. In GT Oliver Gavin got the jump on Bruni’s Ferrari and quickly started to pull out a lead of several seconds over the first few laps. Eventually the grip on the Ferrari’s tires improved and the gap vanished and Bruni got back out in front while the Corvette lost grip any time it picked up some dust.

At the front of the pack, the four factory prototypes from Germany and France continued their mighty battle trading places and paint as they regularly rubbed fenders. However, several caution periods in the early hours prevented a breakaway and bunched up the field. Ultimately neither team was likely to be dominant anyway as the Audis seemed to have more straightline speed and the Puegeots had the advantage in corners.

Following a restart less than two hours in, the 04 Corvette came in contact with Patrick Long’s Porsche and they both spun in Turn 17. As the back end of the Corvette came around it struck the rear of the ExtremeSpeed Ferrari 458 of Johannes van Overbeek causing it spin backwards into the tirewall causing heavy damage and ending its day. Jan Magnussen got the Corvette back to the pits for some quick repairs that cost six minutes and ultimately a shot at victory at the end of the day.

In that same hour, Mike Rockenfeller pitted the #1 Audi on two consecutive laps for a punctured left rear tire that also damaged body work. After the second stop, the car went back to the garage for more extensive repairs that cost it eight laps. Teammate Dindo Capello had coming together with Peugeot driver Marc Gene in hour five that resulted in rear suspension damage to the Audi which cost seven laps in the pits.

All of the new Ferraris ran well at various times but ultimately succumbed to various maladies that dropped them well down or out of the competition. The last 458 with a chance was the fresh out of the box Risi car which led the GT field on several occasions. Unfortunately as the sun set on Florida, an alternator problem kicked in when the night driving lights were switched on and the battery rapidly drained. The team tried running with just the regular headlights but it was simply too dangerous and the car was parked with about 90 minutes left.

By this time, the 2010 Puegeot being campaigned by Hughes de Chaunac’s Oreca Matmut team had moved into the lead followed by the Highcroft HPD ARX-01e and the #8 factory 908 all on the lead lap. The Muscle Milk Aston Martin had retired midway after damage caused by a collision with one of the GT cars and the Audi were five and six laps down in fourth and fifth.

In GT the fight between the top six stayed on the same lap for much of the day and only late in the race did the two BMW M3s of the Rahal-Letterman-Lanigan squad get a firm hold on the top two spots.

However, the real battle remained at the front where the older Peugeot had the speed advantage on the HPD car, while the latter had an efficiency advantage. The question was whether the French machine could build up enough of a cushion to retain the lead while it made and extra stop for fuel in the final hour. The Connecticut based Highcroft team opted to run lean and preserve fuel as the Peugeot slowly pulled away.  In the final hour, the Oreca car dashed in for a splash of fuel that was just enough to allow to get to the finish and still exit the pits ahead of the Highcroft car. Meanwhile Frank Montagny in the factory 908 was unable to close a 20-25 second gap to Simon Pagenaud in the ARX-01e, especially after he got stuck behind Alan McNish in the #2 Audi. Just after 10:30pm, the Oreca car took the checkered flag in the team’s first visit to Florida since 2000 when it was running the factory Dodge Viper GT effort. The HPD and #8 Peugeot filled out the podium, all on the lead lap.

In GT, the 56 and 55 BMW’s led the way with the Corvettes right behind. The open-top Level 5 Lola-Honda recovered from early problems and overcame the pole sitting Signatech Oreca-Nissan for the LMP2 victory. In LMP Challenge, the Genoa Racing team took top honors while defending GT Challenge champs, Black Swan Racing continued their winning ways.

The teams with fresh cars now have four weeks to get things sorted out before getting back in action at Long Beach on April 16.


Porsche 911 GT3R Hybrid 2.0 gets more power and efficiency

After a successful first season of competition with the flywheel-equipped 911 GT3R hybrid in 2010, Porsche is coming back with a more powerful and efficient Ver. 2.0 for this year. In its debut campaign, Porsche proved out the effectiveness of the basic electro-mechanical flywheel system even finishing first among all GT cars at the season ending race in Zuhai, China.

Version 2.0 is primarily about refining the car and the hybrid system to reduce weight and size as well as improving the aerodynamics. The flywheel system still spins at up to 40,000 rpm but it’s now more compact and 20 percent lighter than the first iteration allowing it and the hybrid power electronics to be packaged into the carbon fiber safety enclosure on the passenger side of the car. The electronics are now more efficient so they generate less heat and require less cooling which has allowed Porsche to dispense with the two large air scoops that sat ahead of the rear wheel arches on the 2010 car. The result is less aerodynamic drag for better speed and reduced fuel consumption.

On the driver side of the cockpit, Porsche has consolidated all of the instrumentation readout and all of the major controls into the center of the steering wheel so they are always visible and accessible.  Other controls are available with backlit buttons that have been placed on panel in the center console. The goal was to improve the ergonomics for the drivers, especially when running in the dark during endurance races.

The 470 horsepower normally aspirated six-cylinder boxer engine continues to hang out behind the rear axle just as 911s have done for 50 years. Up front, the two electric motors that drive the front wheels have been upgraded from 60 to 75 kilowatts each, giving the 911 hybrid a boost of up to 200 hp for accelerating out of curves or passing. The system can be programmed to either feed in the electric power automatically when the driver presses the throttle pedal or provide an on-demand boost via a steering wheel button for overtaking.

Overall, Porsche engineers have dropped the weight of the 911 hybrid by 50 kilograms to just 1,300 kg which should improve the handling, accelerating and efficiency.  The plan is tune the 911 to provide similar lap-times to the 2010 car, but use the improvements to cut fuel consumption over the already efficient version 1.0. So far Porsche has committed to running the hybrid in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring in June and probably some of the four hour races that make up the Ring endurance series this spring. After the 24 hour race, the car will probably go to Petit Le Mans in October and perhaps one or two other races.  What Porsche still isn’t talking about are competition plans for the 918 RSR that debuted at the Detroit Auto show. It now looks like the 918 won’t be racing until at least 2012.

ALMS cuts petroleum use while improving racing

Being green isn’t what most fans think about when high-powered race cars roar past, but the American Le Mans Series thinks differently. Race cars obviously use a lot more fuel than a typical Prius, but efficiency is actually very important to most racers.

Weight is the enemy of performance and the more fuel a car uses, the more it has to carry, adding mass. In endurance racing, especially on long tracks like Le Mans, guzzling fuel also means more pit stops and time standing still while other cars are circulating.

ALMS CEO Scott Atherton led the charge starting in 2006 to make the series the “green racing” leader. ALMS regulations are based on those set down by the Automobile Club de L’Ouest (ACO) which runs Le Mans. Le Mans organizers have given prizes for the efficiency index going back to at least the 1960s and the ACO rule book made allowances for all manner of different powerplants including Wankel rotaries and different fuels such as diesel.

Atherton took this idea and expanded on it, deciding that the ALMS was going to make a concerted effort to reduce oil and petroleum use. There were a number of reasons for going down this path, not the least of which was to find an angle that would set the series apart and hopefully attract new fans. Adopting new fuels starting with E10 and diesel and allowing experimental powertrains would also provide an outlet for manufacturers looking to test new technology that could have production applications.

In 2008, Atherton announced the introduction of cellulosic ethanol E85 blends as one of the allowable fuels in the series as well as the launch of the Michelin Green X Challenge. Starting with the Intersport LMP1 team and the GT1 Corvettes that year, the use of E85 has grown to the point where virtually the entire GT field is now using it along with several prototypes.  The diesel powered Audi prototypes were regular competitors and winners and the diesel Peugeots also join in the fun at Sebring and Petit Le Mans as part of their preparations for the French endurance classic. In 2010, the Dyson Racing squad also began using a 20 percent bio-butanol blend for the entire season after testing it in 2009.

2009 also saw the debut of the Corsa racing team with a hybrid LMP1 car that saw limited success and Porsche ran its more competitive flywheel hybrid 911 GT3R at the 2010 Petit Le Mans.

The Green Challenge is a second championship in addition to the race for outright victory. Working with the US Department of Energy and the Society of Automotive Engineers, ALMS developed a formula that rates the cars on a combination of distance run on the track and overall carbon footprint. The teams that demonstrate the best combination of performance and efficiency take the prize.  In 2010, the Highcroft racing team took both the overall LMP championship and the Green Challenge for prototypes, while E85 fueled Flying Lizard Porsche took the GT class.

So what does it all amount to? For the Corvette Racing team, the struggle for efficiency saw the team improve from getting 10 laps per tankful at the 8.5 mile Le Mans circuit during their debut season in 1999 to 15 laps per tank in 2009. The 911 hybrid gets 25-30 percent better fuel efficiency than its conventional equivalent despite added weight. At this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring, the combined field will use over 28 percent less petroleum than the 2007 field. The Sebring field also includes a number of European teams that aren’t set up for running on E85, so once they go home and the rest of the ALMS season continues that improvement will get even better.

According to ALMS spokesman Bob Dickinson, if the entire U.S. vehicle fleet achieved a similar improvement, oil imports could be cut in half and 338 million gallons of gasoline would be saved.

We won’t kid you, we love the sound and fury of sports cars chasing each around a road course for hours on end and the technology is damn cool. The fact that it can be done while using less of the planet’s resources at the same time, is a serious bonus.