4 Most Exhilarating World Car Rallies

With a wealth of international rallies running throughout the annual calendar, the chance to immerse yourself in petrol head culture is pretty immense. The heat, the smell and the sounds render the experience quite unique from any coverage you’ll ever witness on television and if you’re really game, and have the cash to compete, there are also a number of races which are open to all – just make sure you’ve got an excellent navigator and/or comprehensive GPS, all the appropriate visas, and travel insurance that covers the extremes you’ll be going to.

First run in 1978, the Paris-Dakar Rally has undergone a number of modifications over the years, including a change of route that now sees the race take place in South America – so if you want to be in on the action a flight to Buenos Aires is required. This off-road adventure, incorporating three classes – bikes, cars and trucks, has not passed without incident; the very nature of its course has led to numerous accidents, deaths and (temporary) disappearances.

Mongol Rally
The Mongol Rally started life as a charity event in 2004, with just six teams competing – only four completed. Kicking off in the UK, the course takes in a 10,000 mile journey with the only stipulation being that competing cars cannot exceed 1200cc – think 2CV and Fiat 126. Contestants can take any route they like and the cars are auctioned off at the finish line, with proceeds being donated to a local cause.

Gumball 3000
Although an open rally, contestants generally need a lot of cash – the entrance fee in 2010 was a startling £30,000, some kind of celebrity status – David Hasselhoff is a previous contender, and a car – of course. The race kicks off in London before taking in Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Boston, Quebec City and Toronto, rounding off in New York seven long days and nights later. Whilst the rally has become known for exotic and powerful sports cars, all manner of vehicles get involved and the ‘Spirit of the Gumball’ award has in previous years been awarded to a Citroën 2CV and VW campervan.

Monte Carlo
A right royal rally this one, having been launched in 1911 by Prince Albert I no less. Throughout its history the event has become an important opportunity to test new auto mechanics and technology and in 1973 it became the first event on the new FIA World Rally Championship. Traversing 400km, it’s also a great spectator event, with the course ploughing right the way through the fashionable refines of the French Riviera.

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1950 Allard J2 – The Best of Mid 20th Century Euro-American Automotive Engineering

If you have been looking for a stunning sports car that exemplifies the best of English and American technological innovation and design the 1950 Allard J2 tops the list. These cars were produced during the 1950s and they were incredibly popular during this time period. What was even more amazing is that the cost of these cars was quite moderate. These cars enjoyed a popular appeal in both Europe and America when they were first produced and still today they are one of the most highly sought of older sports car models. This roadster was only produced as a limited series of 99 vehicles between the years 1950 and 1951.

The J2 Allard gave a driver an impressive amount of speed and performance and the handling was smooth enough to make them suitable for highly experienced or novice handlers. When the 1950 Allard J2 was put onto the racing circuit the sporty vehicle  quickly earned first place listings in race courses on both continents. Sebring and Bridgehampton were only two of the places where this little speedster earned its reputation. Today these well built coupes are perfect specimens to be used on road rally courses and of course the cars are highly desirable by people who only want them placed in show competitions.

One of the best known construction features of the 1950s Allard J2 is the split I- beam axle used in the front end design. This gave the cars that fiercely distinct elongated nose; but it also made it possible to attach the special telescopic shock absorbers and heavy coiled springs that created an exceptional ride. There was a track rod at the rear of the split axle design and it was fashioned from three separate sections. In addition there were two idler arms at the rear and two radial arms which were also attached to the axle beams. To give the vehicle  additional stability and suspension assistance there was a de Dion axle connected to the axle at the rear with the same style of coils and telescoping shocks that were used at the nose assembly. The incredible power of the J2 Allard in 1950 was made possible by a special Ford torque tube which was very much different from what other similar speedsters were using.

When the very first of the 99 1950  Allard J2 vehicle models were being rolled off the assembly line they were made with the souped up V8 Mercury flathead engines. These engines gave the cars incredible power and speed but as the racing legend of the Allard J2 models grew the increased need for even better speed was a must. This need was answered by installing new V8 engines in the Allard vehicle line including the Ardun OHV flathead and the Chrysler Company’s powerful Hemi V8 model.

The chassis of the original 1950 J2 Allards all had exceptionally deep sides and these were interconnected with four big bore tubing assemblies. The cars transmissions had more bracing than just the four large diameter tubes and this gave the vehicle  outstanding stability but still the overall weight was quite light. This made these roadsters one of the speediest sports car designs on the road.

The lightweight bodies of the 1950 Allard J2 sports coupes were constructed from featherweight aluminum sheets that were molded and then attached with specialized bolts and fasteners. The fasteners were designed for quick and easy release and together the bolts and fasteners made stripping the car easy and fast. This meant that if the cars needed to be worked on by a mechanic, upgraded, or repaired it could be done in the shortest time frame possible. Even road, in-house or mechanical testing on the vehicle was able to be accomplished in unusually fast turnover times due to the innovative engineering and design of the cars.

There were some specific 1950 Allard J2 vehicle models that were only built for competition on the racing circuit. These powerful workhorses were equipped with the strongest V8 engines and tanks designed to hold 40 gallons of racing fuel. You could always tell one of these cars because the place the spare tire is mounted is not at the tail end of the car but on the side midway between the driver cockpit and forward fender.

A J2 Allard in 1950 was an amazing machine with some superior statistics including a 331 cc Cadillac V8 engine. This powerhouse could knock out 300 horsepower without flinching, and remember this was almost 60 years ago. The automotive engineers were forward thinking and highly innovative when it came to creating power and speed for the 1950 Allard J2 cars. In addition to a 331cc engine the Allard used triple, double barrel carbs and meticulously designed camshafts that combined to deliver some of the most powerful roadsters of the mid 20th century. Sports car enthusiasts pay dearly whenever they have a chance to purchase one of these rare cars from the 1950s.

China Motorsports and Why It Is Impressive

China is constantly in the headlines in many foreign newspapers, magazines, TV shows. As a French citizen living in China for the past 7 years, I am amazed at how much is written about China in my own country. A few years back it was the year of China in France, the following year it was the year of France in China, exhibits, shows, conferences, it was a great way for both countries to get to know each other better. But even if China is on the forefront of the media all around the world, in many areas it is still at a growing stage and going through the learning process, but not for long.

Motorsport is no exception to the rule; China is learning but is learning fast, really fast. Europe has had a racing culture for much longer, people have enjoyed going to events for years with their family, people have driven cars for over 100 years, but it seems that slowly, the western world is not what is used to be for motorsport, it is sort of stagnating while China is leveraging on motorsport more and more through the involvement of car manufacturers, race teams, promoters.

China is catching up, motorsport is booming. It is impressive to see so many events of international standard coming to China one by one over the years, not all successful right away but all trying their best to succeed: FIA GT, F1, MotoGP, V8, DTM, Le Mans, WTCC. The age of China begging to get events is over. I remember a few years back, as I was working at Zhuhai international Circuit, we had the visit of an American promoter who wanted to discuss a historic F1 event to take place in ZIC. As much as we welcomed his ideas and his vision, and were open to listen to his offer, he had not yet realized that Chinese Motorsport Companies were now in a position to negotiate, partner with series and championships rather than just buy events at any cost. So when he offered for us to purchase the rights to his event for a few million dollars, the deal was off immediately.

And by this simple anecdote, I just want to show that China’s motorsport market has already moved to a different level over the past few years. It took time from the first Hong Kong Beijing Rally, the first GT race downtown Zhuhai, the first F1 Race in Shanghai, to put China motorsport on the map of international motorsport but if we look now, in 2011, what events come to China, what deals are made, what partnerships are signed and the level of sponsorship and involvement of all the partners, teams and federations, it is a completely different scene than the one in the 1990’s, at the start of China motorsport.

Obviously, all is not perfect and a few things have to improve. When an industry grows fast, the foundations can be rocked. I would say that one of the key things to improve is the relationship between all the actors of the industry: promoters, circuits, teams, federations, sponsors, it could often be smoother and healthier. Most parties are passionate about this sport, which is great and necessary, but often, business priorities wildly take over. At times, the struggles that take place amongst the actors seem unnecessary: who will promote what, who will organize what. But it is also part of any growing business community, we all want a piece of the cake and it is no different in China motorsport, actually maybe it is even more obvious because of the glamorous image of motorsport and the strong media coverage. But let’s not forget that we all have a responsibility towards the sport we love, the image we give of it is what people will remember. Small to big operators all contribute to that image. The best we do for China’s motorsport future, the more business will flow back to the community.

2011 is going to be another impressive year with new events and a super busy month of November in South China with WTCC in GIC and Intercontinental Le Mans Cup in Zhuhai for the final round, followed by the world renowned Macau Grand Prix. 2011 is also: news circuits, new teams, new Chinese drivers on the local and foreign scenes, and more foreign businesses looking to invest in our sport, let’s look forward to it and make it grow together.

Lexus Supercar Climbs to the Top

Ever since I’d learnt to pronounce the word ‘car’, I became very passionate about all things on four wheels and latterly motor racing and all things two wheel related!

Thanks in part to my late grandfather, Saturdays were spent listening to him recount the articles in the motoring section of The Daily Telegraph newspaper.

We didn’t have the same taste in cars mind, he was an avid Lexus owner, while I was more into my Mercedes Benz…albeit not a owner, well just yet!

So imagine my delight at winning a competition and being invited down to the Goodwood Festival of Speed, to be driven up the famous hillclimb in the Lexus Supercar, the LFA.

I’d been to the festival a couple of years back, but somehow knew this experience was going to be slightly different after being told I would be treated like a VIP.

So off I headed down to Sussex, I should maybe mention that I was flown down to London and put up in a hotel by the Thames overlooking the Houses of Parliament, while being filmed by my own film crew. For someone being more used to being behind the camera and always doing things on the cheap, this was really out of my comfort zone.

For those of you that haven’t been to Goodwood, it is a definite must for any petrolhead. Not only does it ooze high-octane fun, but all the racing legends past and present turn up to take part in this motoring garden party. You can get close up to cars and bikes: mingle with the stars whilst soaking up the smells of the methanol fuel.

Current F1 World Champion Jenson Button wowed the crowds driving a turbocharged V6 McLaren-Tag MP4/2C up the hillclimb, a car nearly as old as him, while the only two and four wheeled World Champion, John Surtees got a round of applause from the fans as he parked up the Ferrari 158 he was driving. For a man that has had to experience his son Henry being killed racing last year, he is the true British racing gent, polite, humble and made time for every person that came to chat to him.

Adding some pizazz from across the pond was World Rally star, Ken Block. Known worldwide for his Gymkhana videos, I overheard the king of slide being told to not do anything too over the top in his Ford Focus RS WRC as he exited the assembley area. But the showman couldn’t help himself and infront of the huge crowds showed why he is adulated the world over by doing one of his smoke burning doughnuts!

The bikes weren’t too be outdone by the cars and a whole host of current world racers took to the track including British stars, Leon Haslam, James Toseland and Leon Camier. Italian legend Giacomo Agostini also entertained the fans aboard an MV Agusta 500, a bike which won him seven consecutive world titles.

Add some hair raising displays from the Red Arrows and a couple of Apache helicopters to the mix and it was a definite feast for the eyes.

But apart from all the entertainment, I was there for one reason only and that was to experience the Lexus LFA.
I must admit, when I first saw it, as aesthetically gorgeous as it looks, it didn’t take my breath away as much as the Mercedes Benz SLS AMG or the Bugatti Veyron. But in its understated looks it hides what lies beneath.

So here’s the technical jargon. The 4.8 litre V10 has caused quite a lot of fuss since its arrival on the world scene. It has a top speed of 202mph, does 0 – 62mph in 3.7 seconds and how many cars produce an exhaust note tuned by the music division of Yamaha? Obviously don’t expect to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony playing from the exhaust, but what you will experience from this carbon fibre built supercar is a sound inspired by the F1 cars.

So after having a look around it and jumping into the passenger seat, it was time to head down to the assembley area before my dalliance on the circuit.

Japanese SuperGT driver and supercool 50 year old, Takayuki Kinoshita was to drive me up the hillclimb. He didn’t really speak much English, but from our broken English conversations it was his first time at Goodwood and he even drives a Mercedes Benz SL500 back in Japan and not a Lexus! I loved how he was taking photos of the satnav in the LFA showing the distance between Goodwood and the Nurburgring.

Sat in the low slung cockpit the interior is typical Lexus, superior high quality finish, a touch of 21st century gadgetry in its LCD panel and seats that make you feel so cocooned I felt it had been designed for my frame.

Just to add to the whole experience, the exhaust sounds are channeled into the cabin, so make you feel like you’re at home encased in 3D surround sound rather than in a supercar. Even Hollywood movie scores don’t come much better than this.

Once parked up waiting to go out to the track, I was surrounded by some of the world’s most expensive cars. Bugattis, Ferraris and Lamborghinis were all waiting alongside and this was definitely supercar heaven!

We seemed to end up waiting rather a long time and then a Mercedes 4×4 appeared and out stepped F1 racer, Lewis Hamilton. OK seeing him, I didn’t mind the wait! He jumped into the new McLaren MP4-12C, not a patch on the LFA I might add, and headed the supercars down to the start of the hillclimb. After some showboating from the former F1 Champion, it was our turn to arrive at the start line.

Was I nervous? Maybe just a little bit, but also very excited. As much as I am passionate about all things that involve engines, plenty of speed and are thrilling to watch, I have never been out on a circuit.

Takayuki asked me if I was OK, something he was to repeat during the entire duration of the hillclimb and I was definitely OK! Off we went, my body thrust back into the seat on every gearshift. There was a beeping noise from the rev limiter every time Takayuki went up through the gears on the paddleshift, but my ears were more attuned to the musical inspired exhaust sounds emanating through the cabin.

Now the climb may be 1.16 miles in length and rise 300ft, but the tree lined roads went past in a blur, as did the hay bales and crowds. Was I scared at any point? Maybe slightly, when the flint walls suddenly appeared and we seemed to be approaching them rather too quickly. But fear not, I was in good hands.

Then we sped across the finish line and that was it. It took just over a minute, but it was one of the most exhilarating experiences ever.

Lexus have produced a supercar to rival all its main competitors. It may be costly with a hefty price tag of over £300,000, but with only 500 being made and they have already being snapped up, the Japanese marque definitely has a legend on its hands in the luxurious, fast and automotive treat that is the LFA.