The Future is Now: Artificial Intelligence and Driverless Cars

Robotic cars photo“Self-steering will become a fringe taste – like baking from scratch and riding horses – but regarded as dangerous and socially irresponsible. It will be left to young men who are prone to high-risk behavior, a few type-A personalities with control issues, and some old people who just don’t like to change.” (D.C. Innes)

As of June 2015, there are 77 public-street permits in California for driverless cars, also called autonomous or self-driving cars. Not surprisingly, 48 of them are licensed to the Internet giant Google (up from just 23 in May 2015), with Tesla coming in second with 12 permits – and Mercedes-Benz having two. Google plans to test its 25 added permits on a new fleet of cars on private roads, transferring them to public roads later this summer.

Reasons for the push for driverless cars include that these vehicles are expected to:

• Reduce accidents

• Eventually eliminate most traffic congestion

• Decrease the need for highway expansion because these cars operate bumper-to-bumper at higher speeds, reducing fuel consumption and emissions

Currently, there are 306 people who are licensed to operate autonomous cars – and 202 of them are associated with Google. Sound like something you’d like to do? Here are guidelines for California drivers who’d like to be licensed for driverless cars.

Six accident reports have been filed with these driverless cars so far, five of which with Google’s vehicles. Google had already disclosed four of those accidents, stating that they happened because of human error, either the one in control of the driverless car or by another driver. The fifth accident happened in June and, since Google has committed to reporting these accidents, information will likely be forthcoming about that incident soon. Here are more specifics.

Drive via your smartphone — and much more

Take a look at this quote (and be prepared for some British spellings): “It SOUNDS like a scene from a James Bond film. BMW has revealed a car that can drive itself around a multistorey car park and then manoeuvre itself into a bay – all at the touch of a smartwatch. When the owner returns, weighed down with bags of shopping, the car will come and meet them.”

BMW calls this feature “remote valet parking” and they did the big reveal at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year. Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of the current park assist feature available from BMW, which is still cool all by itself.

Another feature revealed by BMW at the Consumer Electronics Show involves a camera that’s embedded in the headline between the driver and passenger. And, if a phone call comes in, point a finger and move it towards the screen to answer the call. Move your finger to the right – and you’ve declined the call. If the screen is in music mode, you can adjust the volume by making a finger circle. Lost? Point two fingers at the screen to get directions home.

Robotic cars 3Sitting in the rear? You really can become a back-seat driver through your Samsung tablet. You can adjust the car’s temperature, the music or movie that’s playing or your seat’s position with just a few quick clicks.

Also revealed at the show was Driver Assist technology, in development by Hyundai. This technology tells drivers how to reach a destination, but “also displays upcoming street signs, warns the driver of other vehicles that are likely to cut them off, and helps them navigate difficult turns and exits with easy-to-follow arrows on the monitor. It also has a warning system that alerts the driver of pedestrians and animals in the car’s path and will automatically brake if they are too close.”

This car can also monitor drivers’ heart rates and pull itself over and call for emergency help if the driver suffers signs of a heart attack. For more on that subject, see our previous blog post titled Cars of the Future: Personalized Ambulances.

To put its money where its mouth is, Audi had its A7 Piloted Driving concept car drive to the Las Vegas Convention Center from Palo Alto, California, traveling for more than 550 miles without the human in the driver’s seat taking charge. The car safely changed lanes and passed other vehicles. The car can recognize SUVs, trucks and police cars, distinguishing them from more ordinary cars, and can spot pedestrians, even those partially blocked by parked cars.

All of this technology takes real computer power, so Audi invested in the Tegra X1 superchip that allows a car to “learn” how to drive via the computer’s training algorithm. Although the Tegra X1 is only the size of a thumbnail, it’s said to have the power of a room-sized supercomputer from only ten years ago.

 Mercedes-Benz displayed the F 015 Luxury in Motion concept, where passengers can rotate bucket seats to face one another while the car automatically drives, a seating arrangement not available since the days of horse and buggy. Door panel touchscreens allow passengers to make video calls, surf the web and post on social media. LED lighting on the outside of the vehicle tells pedestrians whether the car is being driven by a person (white lights) or autonomously (blue lights). Plus, the car can project a virtual crosswalk to let pedestrians know how to safely cross the street when near the vehicle.

All of this new technology can seem exciting – or scary. To calm fears, journalists were taken on a ride with a Volkswagen Passat with Cruise4U technology, which allows for autopilot steering, accelerating and braking.

What does the future hold for driverless cars?

Ford Motor Company is predicting that vehicles will have “fully autonomous navigation and parking” after 2025. Ford already has its own automated research vehicle, released at the end of 2013 in an experiment with State Farm Insurance and the University of Michigan to develop ways for cars to “’communicate with each other and the world around them to make driving safer’ and reduce congestion.”

This vehicle contains sensors that scan up to 200 feet of roadway, “using light in the same way that a bat or dolphin uses sound waves.” Meanwhile, some Ford cars can already send a signal when another vehicle has entered a driver’s blind spot, and the steering wheel vibrates when the driver is veering out of his or her lane.

IHS Automotive agrees that self-driving cars will debut for the average person around 2025, and predicts that, in the first year, about 2/10 of 1% of sales will be self-drivers. That would be about 230,000 cars of the projected 115 million car sales anticipated for that year. Within twenty years of their debut, IHS expects that driverless cars will account for about nine percent of car sales.

So, how are you feeling about all of this? Excited? Anxious to own a self-driver? Or, do you like driving too much?

About a year and a half ago, Advance Auto Parts talked to experts about automated vehicles, including Phil Floraday, senior web editor of Automobile Magazine. Phil open admitted that he wasn’t thrilled about the trend, saying that, “I want people to have the driving experience. Face it, at Automobile, we still like manual transmissions. We believe in man-machine interaction because of the amount of joy you can get from really good transmission, from really good brakes. You blend into the car and become like one.”

Fast forward to today. On June 22, 2015, WorldMag.com published an article by D.C. Innes, who is an associate professor of politics at The King’s College, titled The car of the future and our future in cars. Innes believes that, “Despite our love for the wheel, we may be drawn inexorably into going driverless.” He blames insurance companies, saying that carriers will most likely charge high premiums to people who want to steer their own vehicles.

The good news? It’s likely that people who do own driverless cars will see a significant reduction in their insurance premiums. Less likelihood of accidents = lower premiums.Robotic cars 1

Time of transition

The transition to driverless cars will be – and has already been – gradual. In 2013, we’d talked to Steve Garfink of Seer Communication. Steve consults with companies, research groups and governmental agencies that are focusing on the transition from human driving to autonomous driving. He shared a rating system where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) lists five levels, some of which have already taken place:

• Level 0: no automation, with the driver needing to be in complete control of steering, braking and the like at all times

•Level 1: function-specific automation, where vehicles have at least one automated feature, such as adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, which help a driver brake more quickly

• Level 2: the combination of two or more autonomous technologies, such as adaptive cruise control and lane centering; in this level, a driver must be prepared to take manual control of his or her vehicle back at any time. Some of these technologies may only be workable in highway driving, in favorable weather conditions and the like.

• Level 3: in this level, drivers will not need to constantly monitor road conditions; rather, he or she will be given a reasonable amount of time to transition from the autonomous driving experience to the more traditional manual driving; in theory, a driver of a level 3 car would, according to Steve, presumably “be free to talk on the phone, text, read the paper, or do whatever else they want knowing they will have plenty of reaction time before they have to pay attention to the road.” When this type of driving becomes available, a long trip could become a productive time, without the “tension of navigating among the big rigs plying” the highway.

• Level 4: the vehicle can handle all “safety-critical driving functions,” and can simply provide destination/navigation information; this vehicle could be occupied or unoccupied.

Steve gave a couple more predictions:

• In California – and perhaps other places – there will be no new regulations until a vehicle reaches level 2.

• Drivers may treat level 2 vehicles, where a driver must be prepared to take back control at any time, as level 3, where more transition time from driverless to driver-controlled exists. It will be interesting, Steve says, to see the effects of that on road safety.

Editor’s note: What are your thoughts about driverless cars? Share them in the comments below! And know that, as cars evolve, Advance Auto Parts will keep providing you with what you need to maintain and upgrade your vehicles.

Have a Great Weekend…and Happy Fourth of July!

fireworks photoAll of us at Advance and the DIY Garage Blog wish you a joyous and safe Fourth of July!

(Make sure to let us know in the comments if you’ve got any DIY projects on the agenda.)

Jim Kazliner
Editor-in-Chief

Formula Drift 2015: rocking the Orlando race

Formula Drift  car picture

A new track, a new city . . . with the same tough challenges. Formula DRIFT has hit tracks from Long Beach to Fuji, year after year bringing head to head battles to loyal fans – and now the famous race descends on Orlando. Advance was there—check out our exclusive coverage and photos.

Formula Drift photo

On June 5th and 6th, the Sunshine State welcomed a noisy, fire-breathing visitor. Formula DRIFT, the prominent stateside series, took to Orlando Speedworld (OSW) bringing out drivers – ranging from amateurs to top tier pros – to the oval circus for a long weekend of racing madness. Fans and drivers alike called it reminiscent of New Jersey tracks back in Formula DRIFT’s heritage days.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Pro and Pro 2 series competitors brought in crazy attendance numbers to the classic small town oval (with a figure eight cross to boot!) and Mother Nature attended in full force, as well, bringing rain in swaths along with sweltering temperatures for every single second of the day.

Formula Drift car race photo

Pro series drivers battled it out on Friday to qualify for Saturday’s main event. And, when the local hero Pat Goodin suffered mechanical troubles, the veteran stepped down to leave the playing field WIDE open.

Saturday morning dawns

The track felt empty but, in the paddock, teams were alive and well, getting their drift missiles ready for the Top 32 bracket competition just hours away.

Formula Drift 2015 photo

Come on . . . picture the scene . . .

OSW offers one way on and one way off the track. Drivers pull onto the track and straight onto the burnout bank as the last two hooligans exit through the single lane chute back into the hot pit area. After a few tears up and down the burnout bank, drivers stage on the back half of the oval waiting for the all clear.

Formula Drift 55 race picture

On green, the lead driver launches through his chicane and down the back straight, the following car tight on the rear right, waiting for the lead to dive into the corner at “Initiation Point.” With a flick, both cars put the hammer down and power the entire corner keeping as close to the wall and as close to each other as they possibly can.

Formula Drift 49 race photo

The more fluidity, the more points, the more pizazz . . . the greater the score.

This first corner is on the high bank, making the drivers’ next move a teeth-clenching drop from the bank to the figure eight crossover. Both drivers smack the front air dams as they come off the bank slowly, preparing to flip from right-angled to left-angled slides.

Formula Drift 44 photo

If the harsh transition from high bank to flat oval wasn’t enough of an obstacle, drivers were thrown over a jump as they finish the transition and try to initiate the second sweeping oval turn. Mustangs and Matias alike caught the slightest air coming sideways over this bump, unloading and loading the car suspensions right as drivers tried to slam the power on to get proper speed for the upcoming left-hand sweeper.

Formula Drift 15 photo

The final corner crosses back past the burnout bank and the starting grid, but stays low on the flat section. After holding the slide for the entire top of the figure eight, the cars bolt through the finish line, billowing that gorgeous white smoke, letting the audience know that those tires have been thoroughly disciplined.

Mother Nature ups the ante

Weather conditions transformed this track into a low-lying above-ground swamp for a few hours every day, with Pro and Pro 2 racers alike seeing plenty of rain during battle. Saturday night, the classic Florida evening showers greeted fans with a welcomed cool down, but also with an unwelcomed torrential downpour.

Formula Drift 45

Racers pushed on through the storm, though, and conditions really tested the drivers’ abilities – and it’s always awesome to see who succeeds when the going gets tough. Everyone sets up for dry weather and, when the weather changes, it’s equally a handicap for each of the drivers. A lack of smoke was disheartening for spectators, but the massive rooster tails were enthralling to watch as the cars barreled through the flooded infield.

Formula Drift 16 photo

The bottom line; drivers with true grit garner their experience and determination to make a spectacular full pull happen.

Results

• Scion had a killer weekend and nears a manufacturer championship as FR-S drivers Ryan Tuerck and Kenshiro Gushi take 1st and 3rd, respectively.

• While Chris Forsberg, 2nd place, beat out Gushi, all Tuerck had to do to secure the win over Forsberg and his 370z was complete a full pull unopposed. Forsberg suffered mechanical issues, though, and Tuerck walked away with his first round win since 2009.

Formula Drift 55 photo

Here is the full 2015 Formula DRIFT race schedule.

Hydrographics: the new face of car customization

Car hydrographic engine

Graphic courtesy of hydrographicsmalta.eu

It wasn’t that long ago that custom paint jobs and decals were considered top-shelf customization. Sure those were a vast improvement from the days when more than 50% of the cars on the road were black, but customization has come a long ways in a short time, including:

  • Engine mods
  • Coilovers or air bags
  • Car wraps
  • And, of course, hydrographics

Hydrographics is also known as immersion printing, water transfer printing, water transfer imaging, hydro dipping and cubic printing. You may have even heard it called camo dipping, decorative transferring, fluid imaging or aqua printing. But, each term describes the same basic process.

In hydrographics, printed designs are applied to three-dimensional surfaces, including the exterior panels of vehicles, plus the interior and dash trim, the engine bay and wheels. This process can be used on metal, fiberglass, ceramics, plastic, glass, certain types of wood and more – in fact, on just about any surface that can be painted. You can even match the hydrographics on your motorcycle and/or ATV with the helmets you wear.

At its simplest, this is the process. The material to be printed is pre-treated. Then a pre-printed film with the design of choice is placed into a tub of water. Activating chemicals are sprayed on the film to dissolve it and serve as a bonding agent. The material to be printed is lowered into the tub, being dipped in one continuous motion. The ink wraps around the material and sticks to it. After the object being printed is removed from the tub, the chemicals are rinsed off.

Pinterest shows a variety of creative ways in which the process has been used to customize vehicles.

See the process in action

One of the more well-publicized uses of hydrographics was when American Chopper learned the process to create a one-of-a-kind camo bike.

High Tech Corvette shows a more detailed look at the process, from dipping to rinsing and from clear coating to drying, on a Camaro front splitter. This pattern gives the Camaro a cool carbon fiber look.

Besides a wide variety of camo and carbon fiber patterns in films used for hydrographics, films come in wood grain, metal, marble and other stone looks, along with designer films that print images of flames, flags, flowers, money, offbeat patterns and more.

Creation of hydrographics process

Although there is debate about the evolution of the process, the first hydrographic patent is one by Motoyasu Nakanishi of Kabushiki Kaisha Cubic Engineering on July 26, 1982 (4436571 A). Here is its description:

“printing apparatus provided with a structure which supplies a transcription film into a transcription tub containing a liquid so that the transcription film is kept afloat on the liquid, a structure which makes the liquid flow in a direction in which the film is supplied, and a structure which slantingly immerses an article to be printed into the liquid in the transcription tub from an upstream position to a downstream position of the liquid.”

This process has allowed countless vehicles to customize their rides – and hydrographics can be combined with custom paint jobs to create looks that are truly one of a kind.

Editor’s note: How about you? Are you thinking about using hydrographics to customize your vehicles? If so, what are your ideas? Share them in the comments.

 

 

SoWo 2015: German cars and Southern hospitality

SOWO1If you’re a fan of cars and see something cool, you’ll want to have it, whether it’s a monster engine or a cutting-edge body design. And, if you’re an enthusiast, there is no cure. This is a permanent condition.

Here are examples. If Europeans have a 500 horsepower hatchback, well, we want it in the United States. Meanwhile, the US has 800-horsepower V8s and so the Europeans want these rocket ships. Then, American enthusiasts want German-made accessories – and the beat goes on, the wheel keeps spinning – and the best part is that this craze for the coolest will never end. That’s what keeps the car world’s heart beating and technology advancing.SOWO 3 photo

German experience without the passport

A trip to Germany could cost you in the thousands – even tens of thousands – but we’ve found a better way: Southern Worthersee. SoWo is a true destination show that helps European car lovers in America get together for the German experience, perhaps even including a bit of schnitzel.

SOWO 9 photoThis weekend is all about Bugs, Things, and Golf(s), but most German makes are welcomed in town, just not in the show field. That area is reserved exclusively for Volkswagen group cars like Audi, VW and Porsche, for the brand purists in all of us.

Mountain river tubing and epic scenic drives – and of course, German cars and Southern hospitality – combined to bring more than 20,000 people to the hills of Helen, Georgia for SoWo 9 on May 16th and 17th. The streets of this small town were packed end to end with vendors from homegrown designer brands to globally famous tuning brands. VW joined the fun with their motorsports toys from the stable, giving fans a rare up-close and personal look.SOWO 12 photo

For even more SoWo, here is our coverage of SoWo 2013.

Future of SoWo

Southern Worthersee is widely considered one of the best VW shows in existence today. You may hear that some rowdy show goers and enthusiastic locals, plus a few too many tire peels, may have put this show’s bright future in jeopardy. We will stay tuned in hopes that it ultimately continues in some form, as it’s truly a rare opportunity in life to share your classic European car in the Americas.

More photos from SOWO 2015:

SOWO 14 photoSOWO 15 photoSOWO 17 pictureSOWO 22 photoSOWO 13 photoSOWO 23 photoSOWO 6SOWO 5 photo

469,000 Chevy Malibus recalled for seat belt issues

2012 Chevy Malibu picture

Photo credit: General Motors

According to the Detroit News, General Motors is recalling approximately 469,000 of its Chevy Malibus, model years 2011-12, due to seat belt issues.

The article states:

The flexible steel cable that connects the safety belt to the vehicle can fatigue and separate over time. Dealers will replace the outboard lap mounting bracket to relocate the tensioner slightly rearward. Dealers will inspect the cable and, if necessary, replace the lap pretensioner.

Further, according to the story, “GM knows of 36 claims, no crashes or fatalities and one minor injury reportedly related to the condition — when a taxi driver bumped his head.”

Read the full article to learn more about the General Motors recall of the Chevy Malibu.

Grateful Dead of motorsports: lawn mower racing

Lawn Mowing Race1 photo

Imagine this help wanted ad: Do you enjoy motorsports (wishing they weren’t so dang expensive!) and love to tinker? Do you get into competition – and yet are the kind of person who will readily reach out a hand to help? Do you appreciate green grass, apple pie and spending time with friends and family? And, oh yes, do you have a good sense of humor and enjoy having fun? If so, we need YOU to race a lawn mower.

We at Advance Auto Parts have been hearing more and more about the grassroots sport of lawn mower racing across the country and we know that many of our readers love to DIY. So we talked to a couple of lawn mower racing diehards and are bringing you the results of our conversations.

Modifying a lawn mower into a racing machine

According to Bruce Kaufman (AKA Mr. Mow-It-All), the president of the U.S. Lawn Mower Racing Association (USLMRA), 90% of racing lawn mowers are crafted in someone’s garage, with that “someone” typically having “mechanical ingenuity.”

If you’re interested in giving this a try and want to race in a USLMRA event, Bruce shares that you’ll find a circus atmosphere with a unique and special subculture focused on camaraderie – thus, the connection with the Grateful Dead.

In preparation, you simply start with a self-propelled rotary or reel-style riding lawn mower that was designed and sold commercially, specifically to mow lawns. However you modify the mower, it must remain suitable for lawn mowing, outside of the exceptions listed in the association’s handbook. Having said that, one requirement for race entry is that cutting blades are completely removed from the mower.

Here are other requirements:

  • Non-stock mowers must be equipped with an automatic throttle closing device.
  • All mowers must be equipped with an engine safety cut-off switch.
  • Mower brakes must be in good condition, operating on at least 2 wheels.
  • Fuel must be pump gas. The only additive allowed is STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer.

Each mower is inspected prior to racing and can be re-inspected at any time. Safety first!

The USLMRA website provides plenty of tips, including this formula:

Small front pulley + large rear pulley = slow!
Large front pulley + small rear pulley = fast!

A tethered kill switch will shut down the engine if you get bucked off, and it needs securely attached to the driver and the mower. The blade deck should remain in place, solidly bolted to hold your weight without swaying. You can install a hand or foot throttle, and most racers replace the front axle with a stronger one. Review the tech section of the site plus the rulebook thoroughly if you decide to give this a go!

Bruce says that there are 11 racing classes and, although none of them permit blades, the resulting racing machines range from “mild to wild.” Typically, modifications are made to carburetors and engines, plus to the chassis. Good brakes are crucial, Bruce says, as is reliable steering. That’s because, as horsepower is added, it also needs controlled on this racing machine that has no suspension. Bruce then mysteriously adds that there are “secret speed tricks that inspectors will never know . . .” Hmmm.

Built for speed

If you’ve never attended a lawn mower race, you might scoff at what you imagine they’d consider “speed.” If so, then you might be shocked to know that even ESPN reported when lawn mowing star Bobby Cleveland broke the speed record by going more than 96 miles per hour! That’s right. Bobby reached an astonishing speed of 96.529 mph on September 25, 2010, beating out the previous record of Don Wales of Britain (who had broken Cleveland’s previous record of 80.792 mph with a speed of 87.833 mph!) and bringing the speed record back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.

Not surprisingly, then, Bobby is a proud member of the USLMRA National Lawn Mower Racing Hall of Fame, founded for “Turf Titans who have turned a weekend chore into a competitive sport.” He has clinched more than 75 first place victories and nine STA-BIL Series National Championships. He built the world’s first “Monster Mower” and also holds the world record for monster mower jumping. He has “always loved to ride motorcycles, race lawn mowers, build hot rods and tinker in the garage. His passion for motors and what makes them work runs as deep as his appetite for Southern BBQ, sweet tea and being on the road.”

Broad appeal of the sport

Although it’s the champions who make the headlines, Bruce says that the sport appeals to a wide swath of people, youngsters as well as grandpas, and every age demographic in between. He says that it’s common to see relatives participate in racing together, adding that the “family that mows together, grows together.” Because this activity is more affordable than the typical motorsport, that makes it even more family friendly. More specifically, costs of participating typically run in the $100s to the $1,000s, according to Bruce, not the tens of thousands.

Racers must belong to the USLMRA as well as to a sanctioned affiliated club. Racers can be as young as eight, although all under the age of 18 need parental permission. “Participants run the gamut of socioeconomic classes and geographical boundaries,” Bruce says, with Aaron Crowl (president of the American Racing Mower Association) adding that he and his family have raced against “people getting started in life to people who have retired after a long and successful career, from people who perform manual labor to business executives, doctors and people with Ph.Ds., and from teachers to school principals.” (When Aaron refers to his family, he means his wife and their twin daughters.)

Both Bruce and Aaron compare the racing environment to that of a family reunion complete with camping, camaraderie and food (and, as Aaron points out, “sometimes a weird but lovable person who reminds you of your Uncle Al”). Both men point out that this atmosphere can exist because no one races for a purse, merely for fun, a trophy and some bragging rights. Rivals may challenge you to the nth degree – and yet, when your engine falters, they’ll give you a wrench, a spare part, or even an entire engine.

“If someone came to a race who was TOO competitive,” Bruce muses, “I’d probably say, ‘Dude, you need to do something else.’ Motivation to win is good but, if you’re too serious about winning, you’d tend not to fit in.” To honor people who perform selfless acts in helping others, the racing organization gives out the Spirit and Spark Award.

Another requirement for participation, although an unofficial one, seems to be a love of bad puns. When you attend, you’ll meet people and vehicles with nicknames like Geronimow, Sodzilla and Prograsstinator, with the president of USMLRA being affectionately known as the grasshole.

Despite the sense of silliness that graces the sport, races are nevertheless judged fairly and professionally, with a computer-based scoring system that monitors race times to 1/1,000 of a second, with results posted quickly online, along with season-to-date rankings.

Past to present – to predictions

When asked about the evolution of the sport, Bruce gives a shout-out to STA-BIL Fuel Stabilizer, which he says has nurtured this sport along from its inception (okay, so he actually said they’ve “watered the grass of this sport from the start”). He also shares how he’s seen the technology of racing lawn mowers evolve thanks to the creativity of participants and how the potential of speed has increased with the technological improvements.

Meanwhile, Aaron notes how, early on, racers needed to be especially creative because nobody was making parts specifically for racing mowers. As the sport has grown, though, niche high performance parts have become available, opening the sport to people who couldn’t effectively adapt parts intended for another purpose for their racing machine.Lawn Mowing Race 2 photo

As for the future, Aaron sees super modified mowers becoming increasingly common, those that are lower and wider than previous models, but still recognizable as mowers. “I have mixed emotions about that change, actually,” he admits, “being old school. But you have to be realistic about the future.”

Bruce doesn’t see mowers becoming much faster, believing that current models are at the peak of what can safely be allowed – and both men envision and hope for further expansion of local clubs and community events centering on the quirky yet exciting motorsport of lawn mower racing.

Even if you don’t plan to race, you’ll probably still mow this spring and summer. Find the lawn and garden parts you need online at Advance Auto Parts.

Pro Am Kart Race Benefits Children

Pro Am kart race  photoPatrick Long’s Pro Am Kart Race to Benefit All Children’s Hospital. It’s a long name, for sure, but the cause is simple: to generate donations and support for All Children’s Hospital John Hopkins Medicine while creating fantastic memories for everyone involved. This hospital is a “leading center for pediatric treatment, education, and research . . . specializes in providing care for newborns through teen(s) and is the only specialty licensed children’s hospital on Florida’s west coast.”

Pro Am kart race 3 photoBecause this benefit is a Pro-Am race, racing junkies go head-to-head with their motorsports heroes who, less than 24 hours earlier, competed in the 12 Hours of Sebring. For many novice racers in 2015, the entry fee was worth its weight in gold to share a track and make friends with drivers that most fans only meet on television.

Celebrity drivers

The race was held on March 22nd. Well known participants include Porsche factory driver, ALMS champion and Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans winner, Patrick Long; NASCAR Truck Rookie of the Year, ALMS & Grand-Am driver, and Daytona speed record holder, Colin Braun; Champ car, ALMS, and Grand-Am driver, Jan Heylen; and Delta wing driver, Katherine Legge, among other professional drivers.

Event coverage

karting 6 pictureNow, don’t be fooled! While the mood was lighthearted and cheerful, competition was fierce. The classic Le Mans style start kicked off the festivities with a sense of spirited rivalry as, for more than 1.5 hours, teams rotated through their drivers and karts.Pro Am kart race 7 photo

This afternoon event raised a whopping $65,000 for All Children’s Hospital, through a combination of entry fees, buying laps back in an attempt to win, a silent auction, a regular auction – and generous donations.

Auction items included race suits and artwork, with one team going above and beyond, donating the trophy they’d won the day before at Sebring. The gentleman who made the highest bid graciously returned the trophy to the winning driver and team, wanting simply to show his appreciation for their selfless donation while also contributing to the cause.

Pro Am kart race 1 photoThat gesture will be hard to beat – and yet, the karting fans who participate in the All Children’s Hospital benefit race are just the ones to raise up the generosity ante in 2016. So, stay tuned!

 

 

 

Volvo’s Drive-E 4-Cylinder Engines to Get a Boost from Polestar Factory Tuning Kits

Volvo var picture

According to Car and Driver, when Volvo announced it was producing another run of its sporty S60 and V60 Polestar models to meet unexpected demand, it also mentioned that there were plans in the works to spread goodness from its racing partner Polestar to other models. Just a few months later, Volvo has confirmed exactly that: it will be rolling out a slew of tuning kits for models equipped with the automaker’s next-generation Drive-E turbocharged four-cylinder engines.

While Polestar currently offers a power kit for Volvo’s turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-six—and modifies things slightly more for the full-blown S60 and V60 Polestar models—future Volvos will be powered exclusively by smaller engines. Specifically, they’ll be powered solely by Drive-E three- and four-cylinder engines, so getting a head start on juicing more power from them now makes perfect sense.

So far, Volvo has said only that the new “Polestar Performance Optimization” for the Drive-E engines will encompass the whole family, including the gasoline-fed T6 and T5 (both 2.0-liter turbo fours, only with different outputs), as well as the diesel D4 and D5 fours offered globally. (Confusingly, the old turbo inline-six is also referred to internally as “T6,” but as we said, its days are numbered.) Unlike today’s Polestar power kit, the Polestar Performance Optimization (PPO) not only adds power, but it also tweaks the transmission on automatic-transmission variants.

Final output figures and pricing is still to come; we’re also awaiting official confirmation that the Polestar kits will be offered stateside. We can’t imagine that the brand wouldn’t make the Polestar goodies available here, as it already sells the Polestar upgrade for the turbo six-cylinder on U.S.-spec cars.

Read the full story at Car and Driver.

Ford produces ultra-limited run of 2015 Shelby GT350 — 137 total!

2015 Shelby GT350 picture

Photo credit: Autoweek

 

According to the good folks at Autoweek:

It was reported last month that Ford was planning to limit production of the Shelby GT350 and GT350R in 2015 — a few thousand were rumored to be on the build schedule. Turns out this is going to be a far rarer machine, though: Just 100 examples of the GT350 will be built, 50 with the Technology Package and 50 with the Track Package. The 350R will be even more limited, with just 37 examples being produced.

Interestingly, the article points out how this ultra-limited production run ranks in terms of Shelby’s history: “Those production numbers would make the 2015 Shelby GT350 even more exclusive than the 1965 model, of which 562 units were built. The company is building the 37 Rs to pay homage to Shelby’s original run of competition versions of the car.”

The article also lays out some specs: “The 2015 Shelby GT350 debuted at the Los Angeles Auto Show late last year with “more than 500 hp and 400 lb-ft of torque,” Ford says, from a 5.2-liter flat-plane-crank V8. We saw the racier GT350R a few months later when it premiered at the Detroit auto show next to the new Ford GT. The R is lighter, faster and stiffer all around.”

Pricing hasn’t been revealed, but Autoweek thinks that it will be: “somewhere near the Chevy Camaro Z/28’s starting price of $73,000 wouldn’t be out of the question … before your local dealer adds his 300 percent markup.”

The GT350 and GT350R go on sale this fall.

The article goes on to list these option pricing details, pulled from the Mustang 6g Forum:

2015 GT350 Option Pricing (MSRP):

Tech Package = $7,500

Track Package = $6,500

Navigation = $795

Painted Black Roof = $695

Triple Yellow = $495

Over the top stripes = $475

2015 GT350R Option Pricing (MSRP):

R Package (over base GT350) = $3,500

SVT Touring Package = $3,000

Navigation = $795

Read the full story at Autoweek.